Stuck in the Middle with You!
So after an 11 hour train journey (would have been great views of the Californian coast if it wasn't for the fog!), a quick 30 minute shuttle ride across LA (strangely all I seemed to see where Girly bars!), a 5 hour wait at LA Airport (thanks Air France for allowing me to piggy back onto your wireless so I could listen to the Chris Moyles, Robbie Williams & Gary Barlow interview), and 9 hour flight (including an hour layover in Costa Rica) I finally arrived in South America or Quito, Ecuador if you want to be precise.
I was met at the airport by a German Girl - Annika who was working at the hostel and who be-friended me whilst I stayed here. At a quick snooze whilst she finished work she then showed me the area around where I was staying - the Mariscal or New Town. It seemed to have some good places to eat & drink so we decided to go and get a beer. Two beers later we decided that we needed some food and another beer which I managed to order using my best Spanish although for some reason there was a 45 minute delay on this! It was then into bed for an early night as jetlag and the previous day had caught up with me.
Quito is the world's second highest capital city (behind La Paz in Bolivia which you will hear about at a later date I'm sure!) and is 35km long by 5km wide making for quite spectacular scenery. It can also be extremely dangerous - it is advised that you catch a taxi everywhere at night and don't carry valuables if at all possible. If you are carrying valuables don't flash them about etc. Given this was my first port of call in South America it made me feel a little uneasy but you soon get used to it.
The following day it was up semi early as I was going on a tour of the city organised by the hostel with Annika & 2 Irish Girls. The first stop was a volcano that is used for farming even though it is still classed as active. All you go really see though was farmland in a valley! We looked at it from the top but you could walk down there in about 15 minutes although the route back up would take a little longer!!!! There was a road but that take s about 40 minutes from the viewpoint we had.
The next stop was the museum at the middle of the world - ie the Equator. This was a really cool museum where you learnt a lot about the indigenous people and their culture before finding out about the equator. We were shown round the type of huts they live in, the food they eat (Guinea Pigs - they had some live ones there), the way they shrunk heads to preserve them (was a little bit gruesome for me!) and their culture in general. We also learnt about how important the Equator was to them.
We then got to visit the line that runs through the middle of the museum. There was lots of instruments there that were used to measure both date and time (the Spanish bought the currently calendar over when they invaded). These have the information facing both North and South as depending on what season it is depends which side you need to use! We were also shown the Corrales Effect with water running through the plug hole. When done on the Equator the water runs straight through because of the effect of gravity, when 2m to the North it runs clockwise and when 2m to the South anti-clockwise - we got to see a real live demonstration of this! NB This only work in sinks as apparently toilets have been fitted with a device that makes them go the same way!
The next trick was to try and balance a egg on the head of a nail. This is easier to do at the Equator as the impact of gravity helps you feel the yolk's movement better. I claim I was successful at doing this as we weren't told the egg had to be the "normal" way up and I think sideways is perfectly acceptable (it was like being given an MI request but the customer changing their mind half way through again!!!!). I still managed to persuade the guide to give me a certificate. It is also extremely difficult to walk in a straight line one front in the front of the other, with your eyes closed, arms out and thumbs out. After an initial stumble though I managed fairly well (for those that we were wondering no it wasn't a sobriety test as it was only 11am!). Unfortunately I didn't have my passport with me so I couldn't get a stamp in it from the "Middle of the World" which I was most gutted about.
We then visited the Equator Monument which is placed about 1km away from the actual line. This is where however they though the original line was until some Germans with GPS showed up and proved everybody wrong! This was a weird attraction as it consisted of several shops selling typical Ecuadorian products (we didn't have time to go in), several "outhouses" with varying things - Ecuadorian Insects (including massive cockroaches), Model Cities, Photography & Artwork. There was also some more sundials, nails & eggs (that should be egg after Maureen smashed one!) and the monument itself.
It was then into Quito Old Town. First Stop the new National Cathedral that was only finished about 20 years ago - it is a huge building. Next stop was the Independent Plaza where rows of boys sat shinning shoes. The square itself has the Independence monument celebrating the uprising against the Spanish. We also got to see the 7 churches around this area that Quito is famous for - some of these were very plain as they build for the Indians and poor people whilst some were quite ornate as they were made for the Spanish. During this time a group of children aged 4 - 7 started following us as they wanted to shine our shoes even though none of them could be. Our guide asked one of the little ones to follow him and told the others to go away (fortunately some other tourists showed up!). He took him a short distance away (to stop any of the other street kids following) before buying him some banana chips and the thanks he got was "Is that All!".
Our final stop was up to the town of El Panecillo (Little Bread Loaf) where a statue of the Virgin Mary dominates the skyline - it's 45m high including the base. You also get great views of the city from there.
That evening the four of us decided to go out for dinner and a few drinks to sample the local nightlife. We ended up meeting with some Canadian guys who were staying in the hostel and a very funny evening ensued. All I can say is that I'm not drinking Martinis for a long time again.
The next morning it was up semi early again as we had decided to take a trip out of Quito to Otavalo. It was about a 2 hour bus trip there and at any time possible locals would jump on to sell their goods - including someone with some live chicks!!!! Once there we preceded to the local market have a wander round at all the stalls - these mainly seemed to be selling woollen items (hats, scarves etc), jewellery, purses & artwork. I purchased a hat ready for the Inca trail but nothing else! During the day we stopped and had some pizza which had to be the weirdest pizza imaginable - it was a corn base but they had run out of tomatoes so were using Spinach as a base! It was a little unusual to say the least but other than having the normal slightly Ecuadorian taste (they use something different that I can't quite put my finger on as even the tomato ketchup tastes funny!) was fairly good.
The rest of my time in Quito has been spent fairly quietly as I've been recovering from a cold apart from last night where Annika & I went into the old town. We had a wander round La Ronda - a popular eating and drinking street but as it was a Sunday was fairly quiet. We then ended up going to a restaurant that had been recommended. It was fairly expensive by Quito standards (US$10 for a main course and that was a cheap one!) but it up high and so had spectacular views over the night sky of Quito (I couldn't get any pictures as I didn't have my camera). Once we had sat down we attempted to order a beer but where not amused to be told that as it was Sunday we weren't allowed one!!!!!!! Sprite it was then.